Chicago Style Pizza: Deep Dish and Delicious

deep dish pizza

I hesitated when beginning to write this because I didn’t want to get dragged into the debate. How did Chicago style deep dish pizza really come into being? When did somebody decide to make that perfect buttery cornmeal crust? And top it with a mountain of fresh mozzarella cheese and a chunky tomato sauce? And why not try it with Italian sausage, already a Chicago favorite. Though the debate continues, there is one thing that we can all agree on: it’s damn good pizza.

Legend has it it all started at a little place called Pizzeria Uno. The famed origins are still located at 29 E. Ohio street, and these days pulling in between $3-$4 million a year–and they don’t even deliver! The humble pizza joint located in an old mansion built by a lumber baron was home to some pizza geniuses who together created and promoted the pizza that we Chicagoans swear by today.

Definition of Deep Dish: A pizza made with a buttery, cornmeal crust that rises an inch or more above the plate and surrounds a mountain of cheese, toppings, and sauce. The pizza is baked in a pan and usually takes about 45 minutes. The sauce is chunkier than most pizza sauce and is put on the top of the ingredients and cheese. This delicious goodness can get pretty messy, so it is usually eaten with a knife and fork. Deep dish can also be referred to as stuffed pizza, but there is a difference. Stuffed pizza has another layer of dough on top of the ingredients, but under the sauce.

So picture yourself in 1940s Chicago, a little more gangster, a little less yuppie, enjoying deep dish for the first time at a new bar. Restaurant partners Richard Novaretti, known as Ric Riccardo, and his friend, Ike Sewell, originally named their new restaurant The Pizzeria, later Pizzeria Riccardo, and finally Pizzeria Uno in 1955. Due to Pizzeria Uno’s growing success, they quickly opened Pizzeria Due at Wabash and Ontario, just up the street from the original. Sewell was looking to create a pizza that could be a meal, unlike the one current Chicagoans were eating as an appetizer or a snack. The owners offered free slices to showcase their new recipe featuring a new, more substantial pizza. To this day, Pizzeria Uno credits Sewell, and we believe them. A pizza genius.

But throw one more famous pizzaen (yes, I made that word up) into the mix. Rudy Malnati Sr. (that last name ring a bell?) was manager of Pizzeria Riccardo in 1951, though some advertisements and newspaper clippings from the time even call him part-owner and main operator. While there is no documentation that Malnati contributed to the creation, and he never took credit for the recipe in interviews, he certainly was there at the original Ohio street restaurant. It undoubtedly influenced his nephew Luciano “Lou” Malnati into breaking from Pizzeria Uno to start his own chain, the equally famous Lou Malnati’s. Today his sons Marc and Rick manage the chain of Lou Malnati restaurants.

While Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due in their original locations still serve up nothing but deep dish (with an often long, tourist filled wait), Pizzeria Uno has become a chain and transformed into a casual dining restaurant with a very different menu everywhere else. Today the restaurant chain “Uno’s Chicago Grill” has more than 200 restaurants in the United States and Puerto Rico, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates. If it were me, I would only settle for the two originals, still present downtown for your pizza eating pleasure. So, go forth Chicagoans, and let a big string of mozzarella hang from your mouth as you bite into some tasty deep-dish. Mmmm.

Other places to grab a good original deep-dish include Giordano’s, Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s East, Pizano’s, and Edwardos. Jackie finds it important to note that her “all-time favorite” is Giordano’s.

Tessa McLean

About Tessa McLean

There is just something about that feeling when you have been away — maybe for a weekend, a month, 6 months — and you’re driving into Chicago and that first glimpse of the city skyline appears. It just always makes me smile.


  • KMH
    April 23, 2010 | Permalink | Reply

    Chicago deep dish is great. However, as a local, I hate waiting in line at these tourist traps. When I am grabbing a slice of pizza or a pie I love going to Art of Pizza on Ashland Ave. This great deep-dish joint has won a wall full of awards for their pizza. I would also recommend Burt’s, according to Anthony Bourdain it is the only deep-dish pizza that he has every enjoyed.
    If you would like another option for the oh-so-boring pizza I would suggest Chicago Pizza Oven Grinder. It is a Chicago classic that has been around as long as I can remember. It is a very small restaurant and their pizzas are more like potpies that are served upside-down. They are good. However, since there is not much seating get ready to wait in line (they do not take reservations). While, you are waiting outside take a glance across the street and know that this is the site of one of the most infamous gangster crime scenes. That location is the spot where the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre happened 80 years ago. It is where seven men were killed in a volley of seventy machine-gun bullets and two shotgun blasts according to the coroner’s report. There were no arrest but it is thought that Al Capone was behind the hit.

  • Sarah Hayn
    April 25, 2010 | Permalink | Reply

    YUMMM! Yes their Pizze Pies are delicious! And that Mediterranean Bread, I could not pass up either.

  • Boomer
    April 30, 2010 | Permalink | Reply

    Chicago only cooks Deep Dish pizza? NOT TRUE. On the NW Side, we rarely eat deep dish and instead choose Box Cut pizza. Check out Phil’s Pizza in Norwood Park, Colletti’s Pizza in Edgebrook, or Marretti’s Pizza in Edison Park and you will soon understand why Box Cut is where it’s at. NYC does slices, Boston cherishes Sicilian, but the NW Side loves box cut Cheese & Sausage and make sure to ask for it cooked well done. Nuff Said…

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